Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Though America will commemorate him on the Jan. 18 federal holiday this year, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  likely would be pleased at the celebration given to him on his actual birthday on Jan. 15. The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum presented a program “Looking Back, Moving Forward” honoring the clergyman, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and civil rights movement activist at the Baird Auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History in Northwest Washington, D.C..

A packed audience filled the auditorium despite a rainy night as young and old listened to speakers and were entertained by a Christian-based dance and performance arts company called Crazee Praize Nation. The keynote speaker for the event was Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture located in Harlem, N.Y.

“The Schomburg is world-renowned as a key repository and research center on people of African descent and the African Diaspora,” said Camille Giraud Akeju, director of the Anacostia museum. “Dr. Muhammad is an exceptional scholar and his talk on racial justice is extremely relevant and timely given the flurry of incidents becoming commonplace in urban areas across America.”

Muhammad’s talk titled, “The Creative Minority of the Concerned: Dr. King’s Vision of a Racial Justice Movement, Then and Now,” attempted to take attendees beyond the one-dimensional legend by the all too familiar “I Have a Dream” speech.

Muhammad gave one of many quotes King gave in reference to the church, racism, and segregation that still is a mainstay, linking it to modern-day issues such as Black-on-Black crime.

“The church can make it clear that the Negro is not inherently criminal,” said Muhammad reading from a 1962 essay, “The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension.” He continued, “The church can say that poverty and ignorance breed crime, whatever the racial group may be; that these things are environmental and not racial. The church can make it clear that if there are lagging standards within the Negro community they lag because of segregation and discrimination, and that it is a tortuous logic to use the tragic results of segregation as an argument for the continuation of it.”

After his speech, Muhammad participated in a Q&A session led by the District’s public library director Richard Reyes-Galivan.

The audience was then entertained by the Crazee Praize Nation, which brought out youth at their talented best, displaying an array of dramatics, hip-hop performance, and relevant statements that disbanded the notion of hopelessness.

Group member Brandon Tillman, 21, told the AFRO the dance group has been a positive outlet in a city where Black males may not have many of those.

“I needed an outlet, and for males it’s not easy to find an outlet that allows you to express your masculinity,” said Tillman. “I found a way through the ministry; the arts has always been my passion, and to help people as much as I can.”